In the morning we got up and got on the bullet train to Hiroshima, the town which of course is famous for having the first atomic bomb dropped on it. I guess it was a sort of morbid curiosity that brought us there and we weren’t entirely sure what to expect once we arrived.
On arrival what we found was a surprisingly normal town where people had been living and working for decades. There were parks, skyscrapers, shops, trams, ect. Of course there was the atomic bomb memorial dome and park to the 200,000 that were killed by the bomb, which was haunting, but also peaceful given its location by the river. There was also a large museum about it all but nether of us were particularly keen to go around it, Amanda because she found it all very depressing and me because I knew that the museum would contain lots of information about the evil Americans who did this, while ignoring Japanese war atrocities.
After wandering round the city for a little while, visiting the outside of the rebuilt castle and a Japanese garden, while marvelling that absolutely everything was post 1945, we found a bar and had a couple of beers until it was time to jump on the train again. Hiroshima had proved to be an interesting day trip, although the town was pretty normal by Japanese standards and of course there were no historic sights as they were all destroyed by the bomb!
The 100 miles on the train back to Okayama took an impressive 40 minutes and half of the journey seemed to be in tunnels through the mountains - how much work must have gone into building that train line? Anyway on arrival we just went back to our hotel, picked up our bags and then headed back to the train where we went on to Kyoto and checked in again at the Costa del Sol guesthouse.
We were back in Kyoto for a number of reasons. The bullet train essentially runs north to south and because of all the mountains it is slow and difficult to come off this line. Also we had really liked Kyoto and there were still quite a few sights we had not seen. Then there was our experience outside of the Kyoto/Tokyo area where almost no-one spoke any English and it was difficult to do simple things, like buy food!
After chatting to a nice Canadian couple for a while we headed out to the restaurant that we had gone to on the first night and had an amazing meal. The food was really good again and it was nice to be back in Kyoto after rural Okayama and Shin-kuku island.
In the morning we got up and hit the sights. It was to be a day of zen temples, each with their unique take on Zen Buddhism that for some reason was primarily reflected in the garden and how the pebbles were raked and the amount of accompanying vegetation.
First up was Taizo-in with its black and while gravel gardens. Then it was large Nimaji temple where we twice got accosted by groups of school kids trying to practice their English with tourists. There was a teacher with both groups and they had a little questionnaire to ask us. One group gave us a small origami swan!
Then we went to Ryoanji temple which had the most famous zen garden, but which was less impressive to us then some of the others that we saw, although the lake near to the garden was nice. After that we went to Kinkakuji temple, which was also called the Golden Pavilion due to the large golden coloured pavilion that sits prettily beside a lake in the grounds. After that it was the Daisen-in temple complex (another huge area covered in temples) where we found one very nice zen garden but where we were told off for taking photos and so had to leave quite quickly.
By this point we had seen enough for one day and so we headed back to the area near our hotel and found a small bar/café that sold excellent beer and even better dumplings! Definitely something I have picked up from travelling in Asia is a love of dumplings.
Then we headed back to the hotel, chilled out for a while and then headed out for a meal in the evening. After wandering round for over an hour trying to find a new restaurant we ended up going back to one that we had been to before. It was the one where the chef had given me the crab liver pate that I could not eat and of course he remembered us! We weren’t sitting beside the kitchen this time (perhaps thankfully as he would have taken the piss) but the food was still excellent and it was a good evening.
We were up early in the morning and despite some heavy rain went down to the train station and got on a train to Osaka, with the intention of heading to the town of Koya-San on the other side of the city. Getting to Osaka was fine, then we got on this loop train line that ran around the city and got slightly lost. Eventually we got to the station which the Lonely Plant told us was the right station to carry onto Koya-San, but there we discovered that it was not. We asked for help at the information desk and discovered that the town was either one hours train travel on a train line that was not covered by our rail passes and so would cost £20 return, or a three hour trip on two different trains if we used the pass. We decided it was not worth it – we had already been travelling for the best part of an hour and a half and were still not close to our destination – and so headed back to Kyoto.
The rain had eased by the time we got back and so we went to see Tofukiji Temple, which turned out to be another temple complex with hundreds of small buildings inside, along with a couple of huge, main structures, including the biggest gate in Japan. There were also some gardens with beautiful autumnal colours.
Then it was off to Toji Temple and the biggest pagoda in Japan, although by this stage the rain had started again and my flip flops were slipping all over the place on the smooth pavements. After that we called it a day and headed back to the dumpling place of previous days for beer and food. The evening was quite quiet with our heading to a katsu curry restaurant and then just heading back to the guesthouse.
The next morning (Monday) we got up and headed off to see the last three sights of significance in Kyoto. At the first place there was some extreme zen in action as there was a huge raised gravel bed with a six foot perfect cone of gravel beside it! There were even some monks zen-ing the garden up again after the heavy rain of the previous day had disturbed the gravel. Asides from that the temple itself was nice, the rest of the garden was a classic example of the late Edo period (I was getting to know my gardens by this point) and there was a highly bizarre display of different types of moss. In small boxes. With long commentaries about each! Clearly the monks who made that display and the people who read all of them had a little too much time on their hands.
At the next place there were some huge forested grounds surrounding the temple and within that a tv crew was filming a period drama. A load of small village huts had been created and some actors/actresses were wandering around in traditional outfits. The shrine itself was nice although we could only see one part of it with a guide who sat us all down in this room with a view of some highly coloured mini-shrines out the back and then gave us a 20 minute talk in Japanese. A woman beside us translated a couple of bits a pieces for us and then there was another older woman to the other side of us who kept on emitting these small moans as though in sexual pleasure!! I felt slightly uncomfortable and was glad to get back out into the sunshine of the main courtyard.
Then we went to see the “pleasure house,” which was basically a sophisticated 18c brothel that is no longer in use and is now open to the public. Unfortunately it was closed on Mondays and so we could not get in, so we headed back to the guesthouse for a while. In the evening we went back out the restaurant we had gone to on our very first night in Kyoto before heading to the bar at the end of the road and having a few beers.
The next morning was our last in Kyoto and we just about had time to go back down to the pleasure house before picking our bags up and heading for the train. When we got there however it was quite expensive to get in, there was not much to see inside and all of the stories about the place, which probably would have been quite interesting, were all in Japanese.
We headed to the train station with our bags sad to be leaving Kyoto. It truly is a spectacular city with so much history and culture. Everywhere was spotlessly clean, the people were friendly and polite and the food in the restaurants was incredible. This was now almost the end of our time in Japan as I was due to fly back to Bangkok the very next day from Tokyo, so we were really leaving more then Kyoto behind.